Celts among the Shona
The Manicaland Missionaries
Monsignor D. J. Hatton. First published – 1962.
I was at Monte Cassino Mission, visiting on behalf of the Propagation of the Faith. Fr. Callaghan, S.J., the superior, tapped on my door: “Another journey for you,” he said, smiling. “The priests of the Mutare diocese will be assembling at Triashill Mission tomorrow. Fr. Cyprian Kennedy, a Carmelite who, by the way, was born in Harare, will call for you and drive you to the meeting.”
For two hours Fr. Kennedy’s car beat up a trail of dust and bounded over the gravel corrugations until abruptly we came on the mission. Driving down a long avenue of trees like a silent cathedral, we emerged to see the beautiful mission church built by the Mariannhill Fathers many years ago.
It was quite an experience to watch the Carmelite missionaries arriving from all over Manicaland in their Land Rovers, trucks and cars. Layers of dust crumbled off the doors as the priests climbed out. Suddenly, there in the eastern districts of Zimbabwe, it was like being back in Ireland. The bronzed missionaries, dressed to suit the climate of the territory they worked, perspiration streaming down their faces and necks, looked like missionaries from any land whatever, but when their laughter rang out and yarns were exchanged there was only one part of the world that could have claimed them. Some sisters appeared, and once more I heard the Shona African language spoken with the lilting Irish brogue!
We sat in the desks at the school, and every one of those missionaries fitted comfortably into those desks. I began. Questions had been asked and answered for nearly an hour and a half when the meeting adjourned for an excellent lunch. Seldom have I heard such scintillating conversation or been beguiled by such wit and humour as at that mission table where the Irish Carmelites have planted a little bit of the Green Isle. Later, amid many handshakes, I took my leave, wandering deep into the eastern borderlands of Zimbabwe. It is charming country running along the Mozambique border. This is the land of mountains, gushing rivers and forests. The scenery is splendid with awe-inspiring waterfalls and majestic mountains. There is a gentle carelessness in rolling grasslands and cool groves of trees.
It is the country of enchanting names like the Vumba Mountains. Vumba means ‘mist.’ If you drive through these mountains for 20 miles, twisting upwards, you reach a veritable fairyland from which to look down into the fascinating territory of Mozambique. The forests here are full of brilliant birds and noisy Samango monkeys with their green coats.
I had entered the town of Mutare via the Christmas Pass. Mutare is a friendly place where the Church is appreciated and her work recognised. Tension is unknown there. The outstanding characteristic of the town is its hospitality and this I found applies to all denominations. This beautiful town is set in a gap between the mountain ranges where the highveld gradually rolls away down to the Mozambique plain and so to the coast at Beira, 200 miles away.
Mutare’s first Bishop, Mgr. Donal Lamont, O.Carm., is probably the best known personage in Zimbabwe, and his priests have the affection of Catholic and non-Catholic alike. The Church is making great strides in the Mutare diocese where the zeal of her missionaries is second to none.
It was with a genuine tug at the heart that I prepared to leave and set off journeying once more.